The Japanese Martial Art That Uses Bamboo Swords


Most martial arts originated in Japan, but many of them did not rely on weapons. Meanwhile, there were those that are designed to be done with swords. These ascended from Kenjutsu. Hence, it essentially covered all Japanese sword martial arts.

One of these subsets was Kendo. It was different from all the others. Particularly, instead of using real swords, it introduced a special kind of sword.

The Kendo Martial Art

What is Kendo?

The term Kendo translates as “way of the sword”. As such, it is a traditional Japanese martial art. More particularly, it is a type of fencing. With this, it fences using two-handed swords.

Moreover, it derived itself from Kenjutsu. This is the basis of all sword martial arts. These martial arts originated from the ancient Samurai fighting methods. They became a popular means to practice sword fighting.

Furthermore, Kendo is not just a martial art. In a sense, it is a form of cultural expression too. It brings back ancient Samurai traditions, cultures, and beliefs. Hence, it promotes appreciation of those.

In addition, it is a kind of sport. It is a mental and physical game embodying the art of fighting. Importantly, it provides training as well. Eventually, it engages in athletic competitions.

Therefore, Kendo is a combined martial art and sport. However, emphasis in each varies. For instance, some concentrate on the values of the art. On the other hand, others focus more on the aspect of playing.

What is Its Purpose?

As a sport-oriented martial art, Kendo provides holistic training. Specifically, it equips the mind and body in unity. It cultivates a vigorous spirit. It esteems human courtesy and honor. Moreover, it teaches one to associate with others in sincerity.

It also nurtures one’s love for his society and country. Hence, he learns to contribute to cultural development. In this way too, he promotes peace and prosperity among people. In summary, character building is the ultimate goal of Kendo.

Since 1975, it has remained true to its mission. It is to discipline the human character. To fulfill this, it applies the principles of the Katana. Essentially, every Kendo organization in the globe upholds such advocacy.

The History of Kendo

12th to 17th Century

Kendo began in the Kamakura Period. It was particularly in 1185. During this time, sword fencing was an important martial pursuit. Bushido, Samurai’s moral code, had a strong influence on it.

Likewise, Zen Buddhism impacted much of its upbringing. These two had closely related concepts. Particularly, Bushido emphasized on one’s willingness to die in battle. Whereas, Buddhism knew no distinction between life and death. Therefore, Kendo never feared death.

Since then, this belief enlightened more and more warriors. Patronizing the art, they established training schools which lasted for centuries. One of these was the Itto-Ryu, a single-sword school. It emphasized on the founder’s illumination. This belief was that all possible cuts emanate from one essential cut.

Another one was the swordless school named Muto. It focused on Yamaoka Tesshu’s idea. Particularly, it stated that there is no sword outside the mind.

Finally, Munen Muso Ryu was the originator of the “no intent, no preconception” concept. This explained that Kendo transcends the reflective thought process.

Furthermore, these schools established formal Kendo exercises. Kata was what they collectively called these. Practitioners of the art began studying it. The study continued until now. However, there have been some modifications.

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18th to 19th Century

During the 1711 Shotoku Era, Naganuma Shirōzaemon Kunisato emerged. He became famous for introducing the Shinai and Bogu. These were particularly a sword and an armor. Use of these weapons allowed realistic fencing without the risk of injury.

Later on, Kunisato generally improved these weapons. Particularly, he refined the armor by adding a metal grille to the headpiece. Also, he added thick cotton protective coverings to the gauntlet. He inherited this tradition from his father Heizaemon in 1708. They worked together until the former’s death.

Meanwhile, Chiba Shusaku Narimasa came in the 1820s. He introduced Gekiken to the Koryu curriculum. This comprised of full-contact duels with Shinai and Bogu. Interestingly, it made Shinai and Bogu even more popular. Moreover, he adopted techniques from Hokushin Itto-Ryu. Two of these were the Suriage-Men and Oikomi-Men.

Moving on, Sakakibara Kenkichi publicly commercialized Gekiken. Consequently, it generated an increased interest in Kenjutsu and Kendo. This happened after the Meiji Restoration Period in the late 1800s.

Unfortunately, the government banned the use of swords in 1876. However, Kawaji Toshiyoshi recruited swordsmen from different schools. As a result, he came up with a unified swordsmanship style.

This paved rise to the Battotai. It was a special police squad with swords. Despite some difficulties, these efforts led to the development of Kendo.

Furthermore, Patrolman’s Training Institute stood up in 1879. It provided a curriculum for policemen to study Kendo. Unfortunately, it remained active only until 1881. Nevertheless, the police continued practicing the art.

20th Century

In 1920, Dai Nippon Butoku Kai renamed Gekiken to Kendo. He was the developer of the Japan Martial Arts Foundation.

Meanwhile, Japan banned Kendo again in 1946. It was in response to the militarization of martial arts. In particular, there was a need to exclude it from public life. Eventually, this resulted to the disbandment of the DNBK as well.

Fortunately, in 1950, Japan restored Kendo back to the curriculum. Shinai Competition was its initial name. Then, in 1952, the government renamed it to Kendo.

From then on, never again had Kendo been dissolved. In fact, the government lifted the ban on martial arts in 1952. It paved the way for the establishment of the All-Japan Kendo Federation. This was immediately after the restoration of Japan’s independence.

In the same year was the establishment of another federation. It was the International Martial Arts Federation in Kyoto. As a global organization, it made a very significant contribution. In particular, it promoted martial art development after World War 2.

Moreover, April 1970 marked the founding of the International Kendo Federation. Existing until now, it comprises of national and regional organizations. Also, it serves as Kendo’s governing body worldwide. As a non-governmental organization, it aims to promote martial arts. Specifically, these are Iaido and Jodo, aside from Kendo.

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What Comprise Its Apparatus?


Basically, Kendo weapons consist of the Shinai and Bogu.

Shinai, made of bamboo, serves as the main sword. Artists also use Habiki. It is a metal sword with a blunt edge. However, they use this only during formal occasions.

On the other hand, Bogu is the protective body armor. It consists of the Men, Do, Tare, and Kote. Men is the headpiece. Do refers to the breastplate. Then, Tare is the piece that protects the hips. And lastly, Kote is the gauntlet that targets the wrist.


Kendo martial artists wear traditional Japanese clothing. In particular, it comprises of a jacket and a garment. Kendogi or Keikogi is what they call the jacket. On the other hand, the garment has the name Hakama. It separates in the middle to form two wide trouser legs. However, it is not a pair of pants.

How Does the Training Run?


Compared to other martial arts, Kendo training is noisy. This is because of the so-called Kiai. It is a shout to express the practitioners’ fighting spirit when striking. In addition, there is this Fumikomi-ashi. It is similar to foot stamping when making a strike.

Moreover, training always begins with seated meditation. Kendoka, the practitioners, are on bare feet. Like that with Kenjutsu, Dojo is where they conduct the session. Sometimes, they do it in sports halls or other venues as well. As a requirement, a venue must have a clean and well-polished floor.

Kendoka perform ten set forms or Kata. They do these with either a wooden or a metal sword. Particularly, Bokken is what they use in practicing the first 7 forms. This sword is about 102 centimeters long. Then, they pair it with Kodachi in finishing the last 3 sets.

Every set begins and ends with a bow. Also, each involves two participants. Specifically, the teacher takes the role of the Uchidachi. This is usually the losing side. In contrast, the student takes the Shidachi role. It is the winning side.


Kendo techniques comprise of strikes and thrusts.

Strike is an attack that targets the wrist, head, or body. Datotsu Bui is the term for these body parts. In a sense, the sword hits the Men, Do, and Kote. Particularly, these are the armor pieces covering the mentioned body parts.

In contrast, thrust is a violent push or lunge aiming only the throat. This technique can actually cause serious injury. Hence, teachers restrict such practice to senior students.


Kendo measures technical achievement in grades, ranks, or levels. Specifically, the grading system consists of Kyu and Dan.

Kyu comprises of 6 grades below Dan. Its numbering is in the reverse order. As such, the first Kyu is the highest grade. On the other hand, the sixth Kyu is the lowest.

Meanwhile, Dan has 10 grades. Among these, only grades 1 through 8 are attainable. Teachers give students skill tests for these. Contrary to this, grades 9 and 10 exempt themselves from receiving awards.

What Movies Feature Kendo?

Since the 1950s, there have been several films featuring Kendo. In fact, the list exceeds ten. Actually, Kendo is just one of the martial arts they depict. One can also witness Kenjutsu and other styles.

Samurai Trilogy

Samurai Trilogy is a film directed by Hiroshi Inagaki. It consists of 3 films, hence the title. As such, it follows Musashi’s life. From a young soldier, he grows into a mature Samurai.

Particularly, the first film had its release in 1954. It portrays the character’s childhood and youth. Then, the second movie depicts his duel at the Ichijoji Temple. Its release was in 1955. Finally, the 1956 film features the duel at Ganryu Island.

Martial art demonstrations appear in the combat scenes. Obviously, there is a lot in this trilogy. Most of them are in the second and third films, however.

Samurai Banners

This is a 1969 drama film under Hiroshi Inagaki’s direction. Yasushi Inoue’s novel Furin Kazan is its inspiration.

It sets in the 1543 Medieval Period. Particularly, it is a story of Yamamoto Kansake, a warlord general. He dreams of unity and peace in Japan. Eventually, he develops a special battlefield and political strategy. This he uses as he enters the service of Daimyo Takeda Shingen. Over time, he became Shingen’s adviser in almost anything.

This film has a lot of battle scenes which demonstrate Kendo. One of these is the fight against the forces of Echigo.

The Twilight Samurai

A 2002 historical drama film, Yoji Yamada directed this film. It stars Hiroyuki Sanada and Rie Miyazawa. The setting is in mid-19th century Japan. It is a few years before the Meiji Restoration Period.

The main character is Seibei Iguchi. He is a ranking Samurai employing himself as a bureaucrat. Though poor, he lives a contented and happy life. His mother has dementia, one thing that tests his patience.

Here, one can witness fighting scenes using swords. They feature Kendo and other martial arts.

The Hidden Blade

Hidden Blade is a 2004 film under the direction of Yoji Yamada. Starring actors include Masatoshi Nagase, Takako Matsu, Hidetaka Yoshioka, and Yukiyoshi Ozawa. Its concept based itself on a short story by Shuhei Fujisawa

Particularly, it tells the story of several Samurai in the 1860s. This was a time of change in empires and class structures. This period challenged them to defend themselves. For instance, they strived to learn weaponry. Eventually, they developed a special technique. It left no trace of blood, hence the label “the hidden blade”.

Martial arts are evident in various combat actions throughout the film. Also, Seppuku or ritual suicide is a significant activity of the characters.

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